Mr. President, seize the moment

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Today, President Muhammadu Buhari takes the oath of office to begin his second term as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Whether you voted for him or not, re-elected President Buhari is again the leader of all Nigerians. His success will be the country’s success, and his failure will be the country’s failure as well. There are three urgent policy issues that the re-elected president must now address.

The first urgent issue is for the federal government to re-commitment to, and undertake measures that, protect life and property in the country. Section 14 (1) 2b of the 1999 Amended Constitution affirms that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

Yet, Nigeria’s descent into “killing fields” – this was the title of Paul Onomuakpokpo’s article in The Guardian of 10 March, 2016–shows that the government is failing to fulfill this most sacred of its constitutional duties.

Several factors have led to the colossal loss of lives in the past few years, notably the terrorism by Boko Haram; herdsmen-farmers clashes; banditry and kidnappings; and electoral related violence in various parts in the country. Yet, it is the combined death toll from Boko Haram and Herdsmen attacks in 2018 that placed Nigeria as the third most adversely impacted country by terrorism (after Iraq and Afghanistan) in the world, according to the 2018 Global Terrorism Index.

Moreover, Amnesty International, in its report titled Harvest of Death, indicated that 3,461 persons were killed in the violent clashes between farmers communities and herdsmen, throughout the country, in the period January, 2016- October, 2018, 57 percent in 2018 alone.

One recent analysis puts the figure for 2018 alone at 2,075. There is a growing sense that the federal government’s policy responses are inadequate in dealing with the herdsmen-farmers clashes. Any solution predicated on re-opening migratory routes for grazing is not only incompatible with existing global best practices but exposes the herdsmen to climatic vicissitudes.

At the same time, the reported deal involving the payment of N100 billion by the federal government to the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria in exchange for halting violence by herdsmen was not envisaged in the 2018 paper titled Pastoralist-Farmers Conflicts and the Search for Peaceful Resolution prepared by the nine esteemed experts, convened under the auspices of the Nigerian Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance.

Instead, that group advocated the “need for permanent settlement of the pastoralists…with commercial ranches established in the sparsely populated zones in the North East (Sambisa Game Reserve in Borno State) and North West (Gidan Jaja Grazing Reserve in Zamfara State)”.

Nigeria’s pervasive insecurities, reflected in its very poor rankings in the Global Terrorism Index and in other indices, not only inflict huge reputational damage on the country’s standing in regional and global affairs. But also undermine national cohesion and prosperity. Political and social trust has frayed. Two million personsare internally displaced.

Moreover, without safety of lives and security of property, there can be no production of goods and services. Without production of goods and services, there can be no sustained economic growth. And without economic growth, it is difficult to achieve the strategic objectives of reducing poverty and increasing tax revenue to fund governments at all levels.

The wealth of nations is built on the creativity, innovativeness and ingenuity of its peoples. This cannot be achieved in a national context marked by disrespect for sanctity of human life and disregard for property rights.

The second urgent task is to restore public confidence in the country’s key public institutions. Three institutions deserve special attention: anti-corruption; electoral management; and judiciary.

While combating corruption was a major plank of the first term of the Buhari administration that elicited much public support, there is, nonetheless, a growing belief that the anti-corruption effort has been selective in many important respects, and driven by the whims and caprices of a few elected leaders or appointed officials rather than firmly anchored on the rule of law.

For the anti-corruption effort to outlast the current administration, the existing anti-corruption institutions must be streamlined; granted more autonomy; and their activities subject to rigorous judicial review, consistent with best practices in constitutional democracies around the world.

The performance of electoral management body has fallen far short of public expectations. But improving the effectiveness of the Independent National Electoral Commission, especially in the conduct of free, fair and credible elections critically depends on the efficiency and ethical conduct of the commission’s officials, the professionalism of the security agents during elections, the vigilance of the voters, and the integrity of the politicians seeking elected offices.

If any of these stakeholders are not held to account when they commit electoral infractions, the electoral system becomes fatally compromised.

This leads to the third urgent task–upholding the rule of law. This task is intimately connected to, and centres on, strengthening the judiciary to play its role in a democracy. Effective rule of law is whatseparates a democracy from autocracy; the guardrail of democracy; and the source of confidence in business transactions.

Rule of law is predicated on the principles of equality of all citizens before the law, respect for legal due process, judicial review of all laws and regulations that infringes or threatens civil liberties, and fair adjudication of disputes between citizens and government and of constitutional disputes.

The robustness of a democracy is not only assessed by the legitimacy of periodic elections, important though that might be; but by the extent that rule of law is upheld. Protecting the independence of the judiciary and eschewing selective adherence to judicial rulings are essential to upholding the rule of law.

The officers of the temple of justice are the impartial guardians of rule of law and must abide by the highest ethical standards. Yet the national institutional processes have not fully compliedwith theseprinciples and prcatices.

This is a pivotal moment for Nigeria. It is difficult to overstate the fact that addressing this troika of public policy issuesis crucial to making progress on other campaign promises that the president has made. A second presidential term offers a great opportunity to build a solid legacy. Mr.President should seize the moment.

• Otobo is author of Africa in Transition: A New Way of Looking at Progress in the Region -which was nominated for the Grand Prix of Literary Associations Award 2018

Guardian

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